Canada’s federal administration has tabled legislation that will outlaw the strike that began yesterday (27 April) as Montreal’s dockers failed to reach an accord over a new collective bargaining agreement with terminal employers.
According to local reports, the new legislation will impose arbitration on the dockers and the Maritime Employers Association (MEA), the employer’s representatives, with fines also imposed for non-compliance.
The Liberal Government, headed by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, is expected to pass the expedited legislation with the support of the opposition Conservative Party of Canada. Smaller opposition parties have said they will oppose the legislation.
The Maritime Magazine, a Montreal-based publication, reported that “Under Bill C-29 providing for 'the resumption and continuation of operations at the Port of Montreal', a mediator-arbitrator will determine the final terms of the next collective agreement.”
After the bill becomes law all workers must return to work by one minute passed midnight of the next day. Fines of C$100,000 (US$80,670)/day can apply to the union or employer as well or a representative of the employer or union may be fined C$50,000/day (US$40,340) and C$1,000/day (US$806) for each person in violation of the law.
Labour Minister Filomena Tassi said the government had no choice but to act “When all other efforts have been exhausted and a work stoppage is causing significant economic harm to Canadians.”
Government intervention has been urged by business leaders across Canada and the Montreal Port Authority.
The Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) criticised the new legislation saying it was “an affront to all workers in the country.”
Marc Ranger, CUPE Quebec regional director added, “The MEA refused to negotiate and resorted to various tactics to stay away from the bargaining table. The Liberal government is now acting as the employer and legislating employees back to work, restricting their rights to bargain collectively and strike. Fundamental rights are being denied. This is shameful for a government that calls itself a defender of the middle class."
The dispute at the Port of Montreal began after the previous collective bargaining agreement expired at the end of 2018, with the employers and workers accusing each other of bad faith in negotiations, and the MEA asking the courts to rule that the industrial action was illegal.